Yellow rice risotto by Petty Elliott. (JG Photo/Petty Elliott)

Food for Thought — Yellow Rice Risotto

MAY 28, 2015

Yellow rice, or nasi kuning, is ubiquitous around Indonesia. It is typically cooked with turmeric, shallots, lemongrass, lime leaves and coconut milk, although different regions use different variations of spices. The turmeric gives a distinctive beautiful yellow color similar to that of saffron, the most expensive spice in the world, but with different flavor and fragrance.

In Java, nasi kuning has an important role to serve in tumpeng — the cone-shaped rice dish mountain surrounded with side dishes such as meat or chicken and vegetables. It is rare to find fish dishes in classic Javanese tumpeng.

Tumpeng is usually served in a large round woven bamboo container, similar to a large plate, known as tampah. One tampah of tumpeng can serve approximately 20 people. Each of the dishes are served at room temperature including the yellow rice. Tumpeng is usually served during special events and ceremonies, such as birthdays, house warmings or any opening ceremonies as a symbol of wealth and good fortune and thanksgiving.

In 2013, the Indonesian Tourism Ministry promoted tumpeng nusantara as one among 30 Indonesian culinary icons, which elevates the dish's status as an official national dish of Indonesia. The dish showcases four or five small dishes on regional Indonesian cuisine with individual mini cone-shaped yellow rice on one plate.

It usually consists of meat (beef or chicken), fish or prawn, vegetables and kerik tempe (deep-fried sliced soya beans with garlic, shallots and chili with a touch of sugar). The kerik tempe gives a nice texture to the dish. This is not convenient to cook at home especially for busy people, as it can take a long time to prepare only one dish.

For this week’s recipe, I have much simpler yellow rice. I like the idea to make yellow rice risotto served with pan-fried white snapper and stir-fried asparagus with garlic. It is delicious and easy to make. Enjoy!

Fragrant turmeric risotto with coconut served with pan-fried white snapper and asparagus

I use locally grown Japanese short-grain rice, the perfect rice with which to make risotto. Add the coconut cream at the end, five minutes before serving. It gives a lighter taste with layers of flavors and fragrance with lemongrass, lime leaves, coconut milk and a elegant flavor of turmeric.

Serves 6-8


For the rice: 300gr white short-grain rice; 100gr shallots; 2 cloves garlic; 3 stalks lemongrass, crushed; 5 lime leaves, torn; 1 pandan leaf cut into 4 pieces; 10cm fresh turmeric or 1 teaspoon turmeric powder; 5cm fresh ginger; 1 liter hot water or homemade chicken stock or lemongrass stock and 120ml coconut cream; 2 tablespoon coconut oil or vegetable oil; salt to season; chili flakes (optional).

For the fish: 6 or 8 fillet red snapper or barramundi (about 150gr each); juice of 2 limes; salt and black pepper to season; 3-4 tablespoons coconut oil for pan-frying.

Others: 200gr green asparagus, discard the tough stalk and blanch.


  1. Peel the garlic and shallots and chop finely. Peel the ginger and grate. Set aside.
  2. Peel and grated the turmeric and mix with 200ml water. Mix well and strain to make a turmeric extract. If you use ground turmeric, simply add the water, mix well and set aside.
  3. Heat a frying pan and add 2 tablespoons of oil and sauté the chopped garlic, shallots and ginger. Add the rice, crushed lemongrass, lime leaves and pandan leaves and mix well.
  4. Add 300ml hot water and mix well and cook until it has been absorbed. Continue to add more hot water or stock until the rice is al dente. It should take around 20 minutes.
  5. In the mean time, season the fish fillet with salt, lime juice and black pepper and set aside. Heat a non-stick frying pan, add the coconut oil and cook the fish for about 3-4 minute on each side, depending on the thickness.
  6. When the rice is al dente, add the coconut milk and cook for another 4-5 minutes or longer depending on your preference. Season with salt.
  7. To serve: discard the lime leaves, pandan leaves and lemongrass. Divide the rice into 6 or 8 individual serving plates and add the cooked fish fillets and add the blanched asparagus. Sprinkle with chili flakes if you like. Serve hot immediately.